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     Some years on Sacrificial Giving Sunday, I find myself having to do some very creative thinking in order to come up with a connection (or maybe even to force a connection) between the scripture readings and the subject of the day.  Not this year.   The two widows in the readings make creative thinking or forced connections unnecessary.  They proclaim the sacrificial giving message loud and clear: Give! Give without counting the cost; give not from your surplus, but from your substance.  Give not what’s left over, give even when nothing much may be left over.  Give as the widow from Zarephath gave when she used her last measure of flour and her final few drops of oil to bake some bread for the great prophet, Elijah.  Give as the widow of the gospel gave when she placed her two paltry coins – all she had to live on – into the temple treasury.

     But let’s get real.  What about more worldly wisdom?  What about “charity begins at home?”  What about “God helps those who help themselves?”  Well, it seems that today’s scriptures want to take us to a different place, to a place where faith rules, not fear, where piety has first place, not mere practicality.  In a word, the unquestioning and uncalculating generosity of the two widows is meant to challenge each of us to step back and examine both the manner and the measure of our own giving.

     That’s today’s message as I read it.  To make it come to life for you, I have invited Anna Horton and David Unger, two wonderful, young, highly committed parishioners whose marriage I was privileged to celebrate this past summer, to share some of their thoughts with you.

We are honored to be able to stand before you today and share our love for this amazing cathedral and parish, and also why we feel so deeply committed to the act of sacrificial giving.  This coming Easter will not only be my tenth year as a member of this parish, but the tenth anniversary of my baptism.  Ten years ago I chose to stand before this faith community and profess my faith at the Great Easter Vigil, because I knew I was being called and challenged to begin a new phase of my life: a phase grounded in a deep relationship between faith and service.

David on the other hand was raised in a traditional Catholic family: a family who were stewards of their faith, and handed it down to their children.  Like many of you, he grew up in a community like this one: a broad, Catholic community which connected faith and service.  And we are here today to tell you some of our story, and ask you to prayerfully consider the relationship between your faith and your service.'

As Father Ryan said, it is no leap to connect today’s readings with what we are asked to think about this morning (this evening).  But it is so easy to see these stories from the readings as “too much.”  “How can I give everything I have?”  I ask when I hear these stories.  I could lose my job tomorrow.  I’ve got other responsibilities.  The mortgage or the rent take up so much of what I have coming in.

Well, we are all called to serve and to give in different ways.

When we speak about Sacrificial Giving, we are talking about this Cathedral parish.  And far from being merely the seat for the bishop, or merely the artistic and musical and ecclesiastical center for Catholics in Western Washington, this is our home.  It welcomes us when we are celebrating, as when Anna and I were married here this summer.  It welcomes us when we are grieving.  Our home here welcomes us whether we’re reveling in the high holy days or just want to experience the quiet of the Friday evening TaizĂ© prayer.

Sacrificial Giving is what makes it possible for this parish community to reach out with love to the poor, the needy, and the elderly, to celebrate the Church’s liturgy with beauty and dignity, to offer faith formation, to pay our staff a living wage, to sustain our musical and cultural programs, and to maintain this great house of worship.  These are the things that our home here at St. James provides.

Everybody who walks through the doors of St. James has a story.  Like you, both of us have jobs and busy lives.  I’m a high school  administrator with a full work schedule.  Over the last 10 years I’ve been involved with the winter shelter, ushering at the 10 o’clock mass and coordinating the parish picnic.  And I know I am not unique.  So many of you participate, giving time from your busy schedules to support ministries here.  In fact, many of you would not be here today, I know, if you did not share a passion for the outreach ministries that are so deeply at the heart of this parish.  Just read the bulletin every week and you’ll see just how many ministries there are here, and if you are not already involved, maybe you’ll be inspired to pick up the phone and get involved in one of them.

At one of the ministry fairs over five years ago, I wanted to find a way to serve.  My friend Scout had been  volunteering with the Winter Shelter for years, and encouraged me to participate.  But I was apprehensive.  The idea of sleeping on a floor in a room full of strangers was not a comforting idea.  I felt that the men who the Winter Shelter served had lived long and complicated lives.  What did I have to give to them? 
When I did start volunteering in the shelter, I had no idea how that would change my life.  I got to know the men in the Winter Shelter.  I got to know my fellow volunteers better.  The “challenge” I thought I faced was ultimately no hardship at all.  And for those who do not know us, that is where I met Anna.  But it all began by just saying “yes, I’ll serve.”

Whether or not you actually spend the night on the floor for the Winter Shelter, you should know that when you participate in Sacrificial giving, you are there.  You may or may not serve a hot meal at the Cathedral Kitchen, but if you support this community financially, you are there.  You may not teach a Sunday school class, or sing in the choir, or drive seniors to an outing, or clean an oven in a chore ministry, but through Sacrificial Giving, you are a part of all these things.  You can be a direct part by performing these acts of service, and you can be a part by actively, thoughtfully contributing to the material support of our parish again this year.

What is it you have to give?  What do you have in abundance that you can share?  Is it a beautiful voice?  Is it material wealth?  Is it a particular skill? Is it the time, patience and intelligence to teach an immigrant a new language?  Maybe you’re not even sure, but the first step towards sacrificial giving is to say “yes.”

We are all blessed with different treasures, talents and amounts of time to share – and all these blessings come from God.   And at the core of the faith we share is the priority of giving back what we’ve received.  By not sharing our time, talent and treasure, we not only sell ourselves short of receiving the blessings of giving, we sell God short.

We should emphasize that these tough economic times may lead some of us to reduce our giving this year, and that is understandable.  Situations change.  People are temporarily out of work.  So unlike Elijah, Anna and I are not asking you to give the Cathedral your last crumb.  But there are many ways of saying “yes.”

It is easy to say, “Hey, there are plenty of people wealthier than I am.  Let them give more to fill the gap.”  But that wasn’t the widow’s response in the Gospel story we just heard.  And that’s not what we are asked to do today.  We are asked to consider what we can give, and to consider how we can offer of ourselves.

We are the body of Christ.  We are called to build his church on earth.  And it is not just priests, and it is not just in Rome, and it is not just someone else’s responsibility.  It is for us, and through us, and because of us that the church continues its mission.  We see the face of Christ in others, and we are the face of Christ for others.  So whatever it is that you have to give – time, and talent and treasure – these are all “good” gifts.  And these good gifts come from above.  Give freely, with generosity, with love.

Anna Horton & David Unger




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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303